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Kenyan Bishop Meets Muslim Leaders over Iftar Meal to Address Retrogressive Practices

Muslim Clerics during an Iftar meal that was hosted by Bishop Willybard Lagho of the Catholic Diocese of Malindi/ Credit: Catholic Diocese of Malindi

Killings from superstitious beliefs, relegation of the girl child, and early marriages are some of the retrogressive practices that continue to impede development among communities in coastal Kenya, Religious leaders from the Catholic Church and Islam in the region have established.

The leaders who met for an Iftar meal that Bishop Willybard Lagho of Kenya’s Malindi Diocese hosted at his residence on Monday, April 26 also expressed concern over what they termed a rise in number of street families, abuse of hard drugs, and parental negligence among a myriad of social issues affecting the people.

Iftar is the evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset.

In an interview with ACI Africa on Wednesday, April 28 following the social gathering, Bishop Lagho expressed his appreciation for the cordial relationship that he said continues to exist between Muslims and Christians in his episcopal see covering Kenya’s Lamu, Tana Rover and part of Kilifi Counties.

“Muslims and Christians especially Catholics enjoy a cordial relationship except for a few occasions when Islamists antagonized followers of both religions through their hostile utterances and sometimes physical attacks. But we always like to think that these extremists make only a negligible percentage compared to the entire followers of the Islamic faith who value unity,” Bishop Lagho said.

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He explained that Islam, Christianity and African Traditional worship are the three main religions at the Kenyan coast, with Christians making the minority group.

“Catholics are especially very few but their impact is felt more strongly compared to other religions. Our work at the Kenyan Coast is seen in our vibrant programs in education, health, and various social campaigns aimed to uphold the dignity of the vulnerable groups,” the Bishop whose episcopal ordination took place last month told ACI Africa.

Some of the services provided by the Diocese of Malindi include rescue centres for boys and girls who reject retrogressive cultures as well as peace centres for religious inclusion.

The Bishop lauds the collaboration between various religions at the Kenyan coast, saying that it is through working together that leaders can address some of the challenges that their people face in the region.

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“Challenges such as poverty, early marriages affect us all regardless of our religious affiliations. No one religion can find a solution without working with others,” he said.

The Kenyan Bishop said that the COVID-19 situation calls for unity of all religious leaders in sensitizing their various flocks towards one goal, that of fighting the coronavirus.

“We need to work together to sensitize our communities instead of working separately. We need to identify and address each other’s weaknesses and to build on our strengths in fighting this pandemic,” he said.

The 63-year-old Bishop who is the immediate former Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics (CICC) Chairman conveyed the prayers and best wishes of the Catholic faithful in Malindi Diocese to the Muslim community during the ongoing Holy Month of Ramadan.

Sheikh Aboud Bazmaleh, the Chairman of Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM) in Kilifi County expressed his appreciation for the close working relationship between the Catholic Diocese and Muslims Clerics in Malindi.

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He thanked Bishop Lagho for the Interfaith gesture during Ramadan saying, “We can celebrate one another and, in such opportunities, forge a common stand on issues affecting all of us.”

Concerning the rampant early marriages among communities on the Kenyan coast, Bishop Lagho expressed regret that there still exists “a very strong patriarchal mindset” among coastal people.

“Coastal people have always valued boys more than girls and it shows in the way that support structures are tilted in favor of the boy child at the expense of the girl child,” the member of the Clergy of Kenya’s Mombasa Archdiocese told ACI Africa April 28.

He said that men benefit from sexual abuses involving their underage daughters by opting for out-of-court settlement instead of having perpetrators of the acts prosecuted in court. Fathers choose to be awarded hefty compensations in the alternative settlement instead, thus encouraging the vice.

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There are high levels of poverty at the Kenyan coast as families that are also filled with children who dropped out of school, with some choosing to be married early in life.

Due to poverty, some girls in puberty are lured by young men who buy them safety pads in exchange for sexual favors. To address this challenge, vulnerable girls are supported through Project 720, a WhatsApp group that the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) of the Diocese of Malindi initiated to rally for donations of KES.720.00 (US$7.00) to buy a carton of sanitary pads for the girls.

In his new Pastoral and Social Ministry as the head of the Catholic Diocese of Malindi, Bishop Lagho plans to create a parenting initiative for young girls in the region by bringing on board social workers, teachers, religious leaders and other groups across the religious divide.

The Bishop especially wishes that leaders of various religions in the region speak the same language concerning the “marriageable age.”

“Marriageable age for Christians has always been 18 years while for Muslims, one can get married once they reach puberty. The same goes for African traditional followers,” he explains, and adds, “This is one area we all need to agree on.”

“It doesn’t work that when sexual abuse involves a minor, the law of the land is usually circumvented by traditional religious leaders where most cases are solved out of court, encouraging the vice,” he says.

Strategies to protect the girl child will include Religious leaders using the pulpit to sensitize communities on the dangers of early marriages and the benefits of educated girls, Bishop Lagho shares.

Women who went against all odds and became successful will also be invited in local primary and secondary schools to give talks to their younger sisters. These campaigns will also include young boys to teach them about respecting their sisters and supporting them through their studies.

Most importantly, rescue centers have been created around the Diocese to provide safe spaces for young boys and girls who run away from demeaning cultural practices such as forced marriages.

Facilities in the rescue centres include vocational training centres to equip the young people with skills to support themselves financially.

Speaking about his vision for the girl child within the Diocese of Malindi, Bishop Lagho says, “We know we may take a while to accomplish what we wish to achieve. We realize that success doesn’t come in a day or two but with every candle you light, it illuminates the few people around it and those who see the light eventually show it to others.”